by Christy Rees
You do not have to let your shrubs, trees and lawn wilt and die to conserve water. Nor do you need to have a yard composed of rocks and gravel to have a water-efficient landscape. In fact, you can have lush, colorful and functional landscapes that are full of plants, turf and flowers and use substantially less water.
Low-water or water-efficient landscaping is often called “Xeriscaping.” The term Xeriscape was created by Nancy Leavitt in conjunction with the Denver Water Department in 1981. The goal then and now is to develop sensible gardening methods which ensure water conservation. The word Xeriscape comes from the Greek word “xeros,” meaning dry, combined with the word landscape. Originally developed for drought-afflicted areas, the principles of xeriscape today have an even broader application. Xeriscapes do not have a single look – almost any landscaping style can be achieved.
The principles of Xeriscaping can be applied to all or part of a yard, in any geographical region of North America. The seven principles of Xeriscaping are not unique and you may already be using one or more of the principles in your landscape. However, by combining all of the principles, you can maximize your landscape water conservation. If properly designed and installed, xeriscapes can be lush and full of color and texture. By following the strategies below you can create a beautiful landscape while substantially conserving water. If you would like more information on Xeriscaping or if you need help planning, designing, or installing your landscape please call the Behnke Landscape Design & Installation Division.
The Seven Principles of Xeriscaping
1. Planning and Design: Making the transition to a xeriscape begins with a plan or design. The goal of your design is to minimize water waste, group plants together with similar light and water requirements, and place them in an area in your yard that matches these requirements. For instance, place high-water-use plants in low-lying drainage areas, near downspouts, or on the shady side of the house (usually the north side). Sunny areas (especially on the south side of your home or a fence), sloped areas and areas that are exposed to the wind would be better suited for plants which need less water.
2. Soil Analysis and Improvements: Soil analysis will determine if soil amendment is needed. Ideal soil will drain quickly and store water at the same time. This can be achieved by amending the soil prior to planting by increasing the amount of organic material in the soil and keeping it well aerated. With native plants, soil amendments do not need to be nearly as extensive, as they prefer soil that is not too rich.
3. Limited Turf Area: Reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible, while retaining some turf for open space and functionality. When re-seeding your lawn, try to look for water-saving species. Turf areas should not be cut too short — taller grass shades the roots and helps retain moisture.
4. Appropriate Plant Selection: Appropriate plant selection keeps the landscape more in tune with the natural environment. For the best results select plants that are native to the region. Of course an entirely native plant pallet is not necessary; you can also look for plants that are non-invasive, drought-tolerant and are well-suited to the conditions in your yard.
5. Mulch: Cover all soil surfaces around plants with mulch. Mulch helps retain soil moisture and temperature, prevent erosion and block out competing weeds.
6. Irrigation: Avoid over-watering! Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant. This reduces water loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a much slower rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion.
7. Maintenance: Low maintenance is one of the benefits of Xeriscaping. You will still need to prune, weed, fertilize, control pests and adjust your irrigation system over time. Proper maintenance preserves the beauty of the xeriscape landscape.